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What’s in Period Products? Timeline of Chemical Testing

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What’s in Period Products? A Timeline of Chemical Testing

When we wrote the “Chem Fatale” report on the potential toxic chemicals in intimate care products in 2013, there was very little scientific research available on the potential chemical exposures from the use of menstrual products such as tampons and pads. We were able to identify just two published studies on chemicals in tampons, both of which measured levels of dioxins and furans. The lack of data was unfortunate given the prevalence of use (roughly half the population) and the long time exposures (monthly use of these products for many decades) with direct contact to highly sensitive and absorptive vulvar and vaginal tissue.

We set out to change this by commissioning some initial testing of menstrual pads for volatile organic compounds in 2014. Following the release of our results, several organizations, media outlets and governmental health agencies from around the world initiated their own testing of the chemical exposures from these products. These tests have raised important questions about the potential health impacts of these exposures. While a few studies have attempted to assess and measure potential risks of these products, all have indicated that there is more work to be done to better understand the impacts these products may have.

This timeline shows the most recent studies that have been conducted and published as of March 2019.

Chemicals of concern in period products and their health impacts

Below is a list of the chemicals that have been detected in period products and the health impacts of concern associated with exposure.  These health impacts have not been associated with use of period products because this kind of research has never been conducted.  We provide this list simply to better explain why we are concerned about the presence of these chemicals in period products, and why we believe more investigation is necessary.

Name of chemical Potential health impacts of exposure
Acetone Irritation
Benzene Cancer, anemia
Benzophenone Cancer, endocrine disruption
Butylphenyl methylpropional Reproductive toxicity
Butylphenyl methylpropional Reproductive toxicity
Carbon disulfide Reproductive toxicity
Chlorine Irritation, corrosion
Chloroethane Cancer
Chloroform Cancer, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity
Chloromethane Reproductive toxicity
Dioxins and furans Cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity
Ethyl acetate Irritation
Formaldehyde Cancer, allergy
Glyphosate/AMPA Cancer, reproductive toxicity
Heptane Irritation, neurotoxicity
Hexachlorobenzene Cancer
Hexane Neurotoxicity
Methyl ethyl ketone Irritation
Methylene chloride Cancer
Napthalene Cancer, anemia
N-ethyl-2-pyrrolidone Reproductive toxicity
Organochlorine and pyrethroid pesticides Cancer, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity
Parabens Endocrine disruption, asthma, reproductive toxicity
Phthalates Endocrine disruption, asthma, reproductive toxicity
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons Cancer, reproductive toxicity
Siloxanes Cancer, endocrine disruption
Sodium dodecylbenzenesulphonate Irritation
Styrene Cancer
Toluene Reproductive toxicity
Triclosan Endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, allergies
Xylene Neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity
1,4-butanediol diglycidyl ether Irritation
2-ethylhexyl acrylate Irritation

Environmental Health Perspectives Journal of Women's Health Chem Fatale Report Women's Voices for the Earth Alway pads testing (Conscious Consumers Association) Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) 60 Million Consumers Magazine - France Dream way Productions Tampons our Closest Enemy Swiss Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (OSAV) KWEN Women's voices for the earth tampon testing Swedish Chemicals Agency French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety Danish Consumer Council (THINK) Reproductive Toxicology 60 Million consumers magazine

Chemicals of concern in period products and their health impacts

Below is a list of the chemicals that have been detected in period products and the health impacts of concern associated with exposure.  These health impacts have not been associated with use of period products because this kind of research has never been conducted.  We provide this list simply to better explain why we are concerned about the presence of these chemicals in period products, and why we believe more investigation is necessary.

Name of chemical Potential health impacts of exposure
Acetone Irritation
Benzene Cancer, anemia
Benzophenone Cancer, endocrine disruption
Butylphenyl methylpropional Reproductive toxicity
Butylphenyl methylpropional Reproductive toxicity
Carbon disulfide Reproductive toxicity
Chlorine Irritation, corrosion
Chloroethane Cancer
Chloroform Cancer, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity
Chloromethane Reproductive toxicity
Dioxins and furans Cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity
Ethyl acetate Irritation
Formaldehyde Cancer, allergy
Glyphosate/AMPA Cancer, reproductive toxicity
Heptane Irritation, neurotoxicity
Hexachlorobenzene Cancer
Hexane Neurotoxicity
Methyl ethyl ketone Irritation
Methylene chloride Cancer
Napthalene Cancer, anemia
N-ethyl-2-pyrrolidone Reproductive toxicity
Organochlorine and pyrethroid pesticides Cancer, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity
Parabens Endocrine disruption, asthma, reproductive toxicity
Phthalates Endocrine disruption, asthma, reproductive toxicity
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons Cancer, reproductive toxicity
Siloxanes Cancer, endocrine disruption
Sodium dodecylbenzenesulphonate Irritation
Styrene Cancer
Toluene Reproductive toxicity
Triclosan Endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, allergies
Xylene Neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity
1,4-butanediol diglycidyl ether Irritation
2-ethylhexyl acrylate Irritation